I should be used to it by now, but I'm not. When I read statements from US policymakers telling the world that Iraq is still not capable of defending itself without US help, I am still angered and amazed at the bold-faced arrogance. Most recently, several US political leaders and generals have told the Iraqi and American people that only they know when it is time for US troops to leave Iraq. Furthermore, while Iraqis from virtually every segment of that nation's political sphere demand changes in the US-imposed agreement to keep US forces there, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice vocalizes Washington's response: we decide what we want to do in Iraq and we decide how long we will stay, so take it or leave it. If you leave it, then we will find another way to stay, and if we do, we will make your lives more miserable than we already have.
What's different about this communication from Washington is that it is not only directed at the everyday people of Iraq. It is also directed at the client government Washington has installed there. Of course, the demands being made by the Green Zone parliament are only being made because the Iraqi people are pressuring this group of Iraqi politicians to make those demands. Naturally, there are those in Washington and in the US media who see the Green Zone government's demands as ungrateful and bordering on insubordination. One can almost hear them asking: How could those ungrateful people have the brashness to demand the right to prosecute those who would kill Iraqi civilians without recourse? How dare these Iraqi officials who rule only because we gave them the wherewithal to do so tell us that all US troops must leave their country by a certain date? Even more to the point, how dare the government in Baghdad that Washington created and maintains tell us what Iraqi sovereignty is? After all, it is the occupier who determines what the natives will rule and what the occupier will rule. Haven't they read their Kipling?
As Michael Schwartz makes very clear in his recently released book War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, Washington went into Iraq with the intention of controlling the resources and destiny of that country and using it as a base for controlling the Middle East and South Asia. As Schwartz also makes very clear, Washington will not leave until it is certain of that control. Of course, there is a part of this equation that is the unpredictable variable. What if the Iraqis refuse to go along with this plan of Washington's? Or, even more important to those of us whose tax dollars are funding this war, what if we refuse to go along with this plan?
Schwartz's book, which is, if not the best book written on the US war and occupation of Iraq, certainly one of the best, is more than a litany of the death and destruction undertaken by occupying troops. It is also a sharp analysis of the twists and turns of the war and occupation that is based on the underlying assumption that this war and occupation has always been about dominance of the Middle East and control of its resources and destiny. After reading this book, it becomes clear that this motivation is the only one that makes consistent sense.
As the debate continues to unfold around the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Washington and the Iraqis in the Green Zone, one can expect threats of a US withdrawal to be made. In fact, certain news reports in some US newspapers reported as much on October 22, 2008. According to these reports, Washington has told members of the Green Zone government that Washington will pull its troops if the SOFA is not signed. Apparently, Washington considers this to be a threat and hopes that the green Zone politicians will fall in line out of fear that they will not survive without US troops to protect them. At this juncture in Iraq's history, one wonders if this threat from Washington might be a miscalculation. As noted above, Ms. Rice is on record saying that she doesn't believe the Green Zone government can defend itself as it is currently constituted. However, is it possible that Iraqis (even those in the Green Zone government) are not interested in that government as it is currently constituted? If so, then Washington's threat of withdrawal is not only an empty threat, it is potentially a shrewd move on the part of the Iraqis and a potential victory for the Iraqi people, who have made it clear with IEDs, votes, public opinion polls and a myriad other means that they want the US military and its support mechanisms (including contractors, intelligence services and others) out of their country the sooner, the better.
Unfortunately, a US departure is not likely to come so easily, no matter how much the Iraqis and Americans may want it. The more likely scenario is that the debate over the SOFA will continue and if an agreement is not reached by the deadline of December 31, 2008, some kind of temporary mandate will be established by Washington to keep its troops in place throughout Iraq. If Washington is unable to keep its troops in Iraq legally after that date, then don't look for a withdrawal. After all, if I recall, the fact that the invasion that brought US troops into Iraq in 2003 was of questionable legality. That certainly didn't seem to matter very much then. Continuing the occupation of Iraq illegally is unlikely to make much difference in 2009, either.